The Responsibility Leaders Avoid

In any job or position there are duties that are challenging and difficult. The temptation to set these tasks aside or to only partially complete them is difficult to resist. It is difficult, but for those in leadership it is important. 

One of the most challenging responsibilities of a leader is the need to discipline or rebuke a member of the leadership team who is failing. Whether the failure be work related or a matter of morality, leadership failures can do great harm to an organization. Allowing such failures to continue is inexcusable. It is inexcusable but it is unfortunately common.

This failure to address sin in leadership is not a recent phenomenon. There are stories of leadership failures dating back hundreds of years. A particularly sad tale of such failure can be found in the Biblical book of 1 Samuel. There we read of a man named Eli who was the chief priest for the nation of Israel. His two sons were serving as priests under him. His sons were immoral men who stole from the offerings brought by the people and who had multiple affairs with the women who served in the tent of meeting.

Multiple reports came to Eli telling him of his son’s terrible deeds. Eli spoke to his sons about their behavior. He told them that he had heard of their sin and how news of it was spreading among the people. He warned them that God would judge them for their actions. Unfortunately, Eli did nothing but talk. He did not remove his sons from their positions of authority or punish them for their deeds. Ultimately Eli and his sons paid for their sins with their lives and the nation suffered tragic defeat at the hands of its enemies. Thousands died.

I have seen similar failures in multiple settings in medical organizations and in churches. I served for a year in a leadership position for a large hospital in Orange County. I watched first hand as the CEO intentionally misled and manipulated others. I soon learned that the instances I had seen were not isolated. Medical staffs leaders and hospital employees related similar tales of promises broken and respect lost. In conversation after conversation people expressed the same question, "How could the Board of Directors not see what was happening?" The greater fear was that the Board did see but was refusing to act. The CEO moved on (he was actually promoted!) to another position but it will take years to rebuild the trust and confidence that was lost. It has been over three years since I dealt with the man and I still do not fully trust the leadership of the hospital and am extremely cautious in all of my dealings with them.

Such failures of leadership are sad in business but they are tragic in churches. Over the years I have seen church elders follow in the steps of Eli on many occasions. I have watched as elders acted as if the fact that an in issue had been discussed meant that it had been addressed. I saw this again recently in the way leaders of a particular church dealt with a pastor who frequently used foul language and was overbearing in his dealings with staff members. The elders knew of the behavior and “addressed it” but continued.

The pastor ultimately resigned for other reasons. As he left failings were hidden further when the elders publicly praised him as a great man on his final Sunday at the church.

As is always the case, the secret of his poor character did not stay secret long. His poor judgment and lack of repentance became evident in his podcasts and Facebook posts. Freed from the constraints of his church position he shared his salty language and questionable theology with the world. He has left his church but the damage his sin caused continues to this day as left behind a divided congregation.

The stories of the CEO, the pastor and Eli the priest are powerful reminders of the tremendous responsibility borne by all leaders. It is up to leaders in business to step up and address failures of leaders and it is up to church elders to shepherd and protect the church, to stand against those whose acitions can cause harm. There are few duties more important than holding other leaders accountable for their words and deeds. When dealing with leaders who are failing mere words are seldom enough. Action is required.

It is difficult and uncomfortable to take such action but true leaders rise to the occasion.